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The Sovereignty of God in Election

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 9:6–18

We will never fully grasp the sovereign election of God, but as followers of Christ, we can rejoice in the truth that God chose us. And that is why we chose to believe in Christ. It could be no other way, for the work of salvation is solely of God.


Most Christians I know would say they believe in the sovereignty of God—that He is supreme Ruler over all things and that He ordains whatever comes to pass.[1] But many Christians are not too sure God has the right to choose His followers. We do not mind God choosing Israel over the Philistines, but we are not too sure about today.

Jonathan Edwards was a leading pastor and theologian of the Great Awakening in the 1700s, and many are aware of his famous sermon entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” But not many Christians today would be comfortable with what he preached about God’s sovereignty. He believed and taught that God has “an absolute, independent right of disposing of all creatures according to His own pleasure.”[2]

Many people today are not certain they want to believe God is that sovereign—I suppose they prefer Him to be partially sovereign.

Well, beloved, divine election might remain a mystery to us—and it should. After all, it is the work of God in eternity past, and frankly, I cannot remember what happened two weeks ago, much less contemplate something God did an eternity ago.

But it is worth contemplating. In fact, the sovereign work of God in election does several things for us.

First, it elevates our perspective of God. He is not our little errand boy—some genie who responds to our wishes. He is beyond our imagination.

Second, divine election encourages true worship—not self-centered worship that’s practiced only as long as God makes our life easier, but true worship of a sovereign God who is in control of all things.

Third, divine election eliminates all pride before God. We become very small, and God becomes greater still.

Finally, divine election leads us to exalt the mercy and grace of God, who chose us for Himself.

You might be thinking, But I thought I chose Christ as my Savior? You did! In fact, the Bible also emphasizes your free will. Nobody is getting into heaven without choosing Christ. These are the two sides of salvation. Divine election—that is God’s part. And free will—that is our part, as we surrender to the grace of God.

Certain passages in the Bible emphasize one truth over the other. For instance, when the Philippian jailor asked Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?” They didn’t respond, “Well, you’re obviously elect, so you don’t need to do anything.” No, they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:30-31).

Now as we sail deeper into Romans 9, this chapter emphasizes the sovereignty of God in election and God’s will.

Paul describes God’s sovereignty with illustrations from Israel’s past. He writes in verse 6, “It is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel.” In other words, just because the nation of Israel rejected the Messiah does not mean God’s Word and God’s will have failed—it does not mean He is not sovereign.

No, Paul goes back to Israel’s beginning to show that God is sovereign in His choosing and that His purposes have not failed. And he begins by mentioning Abraham in verse 7: “Not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring.” He is saying that people might have Jewish blood in their veins but not be connected to Abraham’s faith; they might be Abraham’s children physically but not spiritually, by faith in His Messiah.

So, the nation of Israel began with the election of Abraham—God choosing him from a pagan culture. Paul then rehearses God’s promise that Abraham’s elderly wife Sarah would have a son. And she conceived and bore a son, Isaac.

Abraham was a hundred years old when Isaac was born, and Sarah was ninety. Their son of promise was miraculous—granted to a mother and father who would have to use their walkers to go visit the nursery.

With that illustration, Paul moves on to review the sovereign choice of Jacob:

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children [twins] by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born, and had done nothing either good or bad, in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of Him who calls—she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” (verses 10-13)

That last sentence, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated,” is simply God’s way of saying, “Jacob is the one I have chosen, and Esau is the one I have rejected.” Here “love” and “hate” are not emotional; they are theological—related to God’s choice and priority of one over the other.

Paul anticipates his readers saying that God’s choice of Jacob over Esau was not fair. So, Paul goes on in verse 14: “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means!” The issue was not partiality; it was sovereignty. Paul quotes God’s statement to Moses in verse 15: “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” That sounds pretty sovereign to me.

Now Paul pulls from Israel’s history one of the greatest illustrations of God’s sovereign power—verse 17:

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

Every plague brought upon Egypt was a demonstration of God’s power over an Egyptian god. We covered that in our Wisdom Journey back in Exodus 9.

Although several times in Exodus, we read that Pharaoh hardened his heart, God also said that He was going to harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21). The stubbornness of Pharaoh would be the backdrop to this display of God’s power.

This pharaoh was Amenhotep II. He was believed to be the offspring of the sun god Ra, the highest god of the universe. In fact, his throne name means “Great are the manifestations of Ra.”

He was quite an impressive leader, evidently, renowned for his athletic ability and physical strength. Inscriptions claim that as a young man he trained stallions for battle and on one occasion shot arrows through a target while driving a chariot with the reins tied around his waist.

As pharaoh, Amenhotep II became a fierce dictator known as a bloodthirsty, cruel leader. It was this pharaoh Moses dared to command, “Let my people go.”

Finally, after eight plagues, God effectively said to Pharaoh, “You think you are the sovereign descendant of the sun god? Well, I am going to blot out the light of the sun!”

Pharaoh remained unrepentant. With that, the final plague was the death of the firstborn. Faithful Israelites were protected from the plague by putting the blood of a lamb on their doorposts, but all the firstborn of Egypt died. This final judgment demonstrated God’s sovereignty over life and death.

God’s power over Egypt would never be forgotten. The Jewish Passover, commemorating God’s passing over the homes that had blood displayed on their doorposts, is still observed by Jewish people around the world today. Jesus is the final Passover Lamb, and He is the Savior of all who trust in the shedding of His blood for their sin.

Maybe you are asking right now, “How do I know if I have been rescued from the judgment of God?” That’s simple. Have you said to Jesus at some point in your life, “Lord, I have nothing to offer you but my sin. I claim your blood shed for me. Have mercy on me and save me.” If you have in faith said something to that effect, you are one of God’s elect—one of His chosen people—redeemed forever by His mercy and grace.

[1] Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, revised and expanded (Moody Publishers, 2014), 760.

[2] Quoted in James Montgomery Boice, Romans: An Expositional Commentary, Volume 3 (Baker, 1993), 1095.

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